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The Complexities of Enterprise Maps

February 26, 2019 by Sam Slater

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Maps have come a long way in the last few years. A simple touch on the map app on your phone helps you find businesses, read reviews, get directions, estimate traffic, and much more. However, the business opportunities for mapping make the consumer-side seem basic. The potential of mapping to support and share a business is untapped and vast.

Business mapping, in fact, goes far beyond Google or Apple Maps, and Waze. Yes, these applications are impressive and have become an essential part of daily life. At the same time, they're just the beginning.

The Benefits and Shortcomings of Consumer-Directed Maps

Consumer-Directed Maps

Yes, consumer-directed maps have significant benefits for businesses across the spectrum. In fact, they are and should be a critical part of your marketing efforts. According to one study, more than 77% of smartphone users regularly use navigation apps. Most prefer them for driving directions, but others review businesses, look for local shopping and restaurants, and more.

Think about a modern business, in a popular shopping district, which is not represented on Google Maps. Imagine the amount of traffic they're missing. If no one can find you, how could they possibly do business with you?

That's why most marketing experts swear by channels like Google Maps or the location-based marketing opportunities offered by Waze. And yet, they also have significant shortcomings when it comes to operating your business.

Move away from the consumer-based perspective for a minute. Imagine a different use case: you need a map for automated pickers in your warehouse to follow. It's not a public location, so no open mapping service will be able to help. And even when it's public: the inaccuracy of these maps can lead to invalid driving directions, unclear opportunities, and more.

Yes, apps like Waze are a great marketing opportunity. Though that doesn't mean you can rely on them for your entire business. As beneficial they can be for an end-user, consumer-based apps also have some serious limitations since built, designed and optimized for the end consumer user

In these apps, everything is user-based. A user, in most cases, will assume time, money, and information is both unlimited and always correct. When it isn't, especially in situations related to your business, they will blame you. That combined with the limited functionality of these open maps to call for a different solution.

How Use Case Defines the Map

When it comes to any technology within your organization, it makes sense to start evaluating your needs by asking the user question. Who, exactly, will leverage the tech? 

When it comes to business map software, the answer can be very different depending on your future intent. They might include:

  • Visitors, such as patients in a hospital who need to find the right room or floor.
  • Employees and internal audiences, who navigate complex corporate headquarters and other large spaces to optimize their efficiency.
  • Non-human users, such as the above-mentioned robots picking goods in a warehouse.

That's just a sampling of the possibilities.

Once you understand the user, it pays to take a close look at exactly how they will use any mapping software you will provide them. When will they open it, what features will they most leverage, and what decisions will they be able to make based on what they find in the map?

At this point, the limitations of publicly available free mapping solutions should be clear. Dig this deep, and you'll find hardly any of the consumer-based map software currently on the market and available for general use can't satisfy your core business needs. You need to get more specific.

The Importance of Live Data Integration For Your Map

Live data integration in warehouse

Use case is a core consideration as you begin to consider your mapping needs. Some of these needs may be latent; you may not even know they exist until you've uncovered this first consideration. Use case alone, though, is not enough for success.

Resources matter just as much. In fact, they can define the map and what it will be used for. The more accurate it needs to be, the more important the data sources feeding into it. Data collection may not be necessary when tapping into Google Maps; however, when picking a specific package from a warehouse, it's crucial.

That expansion of resources, at least in part, depends on which data sources you can leverage to succeed long-term. Businesses working with us often leverage:

  • GIS data
  • Blueprints
  • IoT data
  • CAD files
  • RFID tracking
  • Open Street Maps/Mapbox/Leaflet

Let's examine each of them in a bit more detail.

GIS Data

GIS, short for Geographic Information Systems, builds geographic information into maps in order to visualize and analyze it. That data can come from a wide range of specific sources, many of them listed below. In a nutshell, it's a system that collects and aggregates the data for further analysis and map-building.

The data itself stems from sources like the US Geological Survey, Natural Earth Data, ESRI Open Data, and more. While much of it is available to the public, some more in-depth data sources can get quite costly. The acquisition and aggregation of them might require a professional GIS specialist to build a detailed, decision-oriented business map.

Blueprints

Everyone is familiar with classic blueprints that show exact building features, measurements, and rooms. These blueprints can be feed into a map, helping to outline its parameters and ensuring precise lines drawn as the map is digitized.

However, blueprints are also static, and will need further data integration to allow for more dynamic, real-time mapping features. They're great as a foundation, but typically not enough for any in-depth business mapping project.

IoT Data

The internet of things (IoT) is becoming an increasingly in-depth data opportunity as the global market for connected devices surpassed $151 billion in 2018. Growth is only speeding up as more everyday appliances, applications, and devices are connected to the internet.

Every connected device is a potential data source for your business map. They send signals to each other and to centralized databases which allow you to track activity, and feed real-time data into your map. Cutting through the clutter of that information is crucial. But if you find the right data to analyze, the opportunities are immense.

CAD Files

Computer-aided design (CAD) is a familiar topic for architects and engineers, but just coming into its own in the mapping environment. Within that context, it helps to digitize files to use in real maps, to be used by both companies and end users. 

To the novice, it sounds a lot like blueprints discussed above. In fact, the two are complimentary, and can link together for maximum success and outreach. One can provide the content for the other's data, and vice versa. Which of the two your company needs, or whether you need both, goes beyond the scope of this article but illustrates the versatility necessary in complex business mapping.

Data Integrated Map

RFID Data

RFID, short for Radio-Frequency Identification, includes the use of chips to communicate relevant data over short distances. Its uses in 3D maps are largely connected to real-time objects moving into various locations, and communicating these locations with a centralized data system that adjusts the map accordingly.

That sounds complicated. It doesn't have to be. Think about a warehouse that's able to track at all times where its transportation vehicles are, and what they're working on. This type of real-time data tracking allows maps to continually update themselves and communicate that data out, enabling each transportation vehicle to 'know' where its complements are. Operators can track movements to optimize them over time, and improve efficiencies of the system.

OpenStreetMap / Mapbox/Leaflet

Finally, don't underestimate the power of open-source, publicly available mapping data through projects like OpenStreetMap and Mapbox. Each of them are slightly different in nature:

  • OpenStreetMap is essentially a giant open-source Atlas, providing mapping tiles similar to the tiles of Google Map. Unlike Google Maps (which it resembles in many ways), its data contains GPS traces and is free for download for personal and business use.
  • MapBox is a developer platform that supplies Open Street Map tiles. Mapbox Studio provides additional customization and mapping opportunities to developers. Like complex GIS solutions the implementation of Mapbox requires a developer background. 

Map Tiles

How Much Can You Customize Your Opportunities?

How good will your map be? Depends in large part on the resources you're able to devote to it. Basic business mapping, in the end, may not look much different from publicly available, consumer-based solutions. With the right data and resources, on the other hand, you're able to build extensive, customized solutions designed specifically for your business situation, goals, and audience.

To say the opportunities are endless is a cliché. Here, it applies almost perfectly. Limited only by intended use case and resources, you can build custom maps that far outpace anything currently thought possible within your organization. By taking ownership of the data and integrating live data into the map itself, you can build anything from logistics/navigational solutions to an advanced marketing tool for both human and non-human users.

Achieving a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

We don't have to tell you about the importance of competitive advantages. From hospitals to educational institutions, the environment is crowded. Standing out from that crowd in the eyes of your audience is becoming increasingly essential, but also difficult. Without that advantage, you risk getting lost in the noise and failing to grab your audience's attention.

There are many ways to achieve a competitive advantage. Far be it from us to suggest that maps are the only opportunity and they are not. And yet, they can take center stage in your efforts to stand apart.

The first opportunity is internal. The right mapping solutions can help you significantly increase your efficiencies, strategy, and planning efforts. The visualization of important data on its own is valuable, but so is the ability to combine complex, real-time data flows into a more cohesive, actionable environment. These increased efficiencies will provide more effective workflows and decision-making processes compared to competitors who can't leverage them.

Externally, building complex maps is just as valuable. Indoor maps, for instance, can allow your audience to find their way in large buildings. Real-time data integration allows for valuable information like parking availability. Maps don't have to be static, but can be integrated with your own internal data resources for a better, more interactive, more audience-friendly environment.

Thanks to the complexity of building your own maps, the process is still relatively rare in many industries. Most businesses continue to rely on publicly available solutions. The decision to take it further, though it requires additional resources, planning, and investment, has the chance to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage for both internal processes and external customer satisfaction.

Building the Right 3D Map For Your Business

The decision to leverage business mapping to your advantage, of course, is only the beginning. Execution comes next, and just how you decide to execute can shape the success (or failure) of the undertaking. Strategy, as always, is absolutely key.

Building the right map has to start with understanding both your available resources and the goal of the process itself. If you don't have a clear understanding of desired outcomes, you cannot stay strict in looking to reach your goals. we always recommend our clients undergo a discovery phase in which they narrow down both of these variables before the building begins.

With both variables in mind, it's time to find the right partner. You need a solution that can marry your needs and resources with a business map specifically designed for your goals, or at least adjusted to help you improve your processes. Real-time data integration is key, as is a range of functionalities designed for your industry and use case.

We might be that partner for you. Contact us to find out. Let's have a conversation about the benefits of business maps specifically for your organization, and how we can help you achieve your long-term goals.

Topics: Live Data, Digital Maps

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